Part 2 of our Technical Manager David and puppeteer Ronnie Le Drew finding out how much the local area around Little Angel Theatre has changed. You can read Part 1 here.
David: Cross Street is now considered a fancy shopping street.
Ronnie: The newsagents is shut now, it used to be Partridges. We got all our papers there. It’s been shut for a couple of years. The Bistro Cafe Inn across the road was the Essex Stores. Now that was run by an amazing family that were in a feud with Jacks Store, where the delicatessen is now. Another old Islingtonian. They’d sell the same stuff: little packs of butter, cheese, eggs, and milk. They’d always try to undercut each others prices. Lovely local colour! On the corner is Wild Swans (website here), and that was the Essex Cafe owned by the same family, I preferred a different one: where the vet is now. I think it was one of the first Greek ones. They couldn’t pronounce “Peas.” They always said, “Piss!” There used to be a marvelous old firm across Florence Street selling ladies shoes and underwear for lady impersonators! It always had dark windows!
David: Wow! So many little practical shops. It’s funny because Islington seems so upmarket these days.
Ronnie: Well, Essex Road was always a little less upmarket. You still find the odd wallpaper shop. It’s still like the old Upper Street. There’s the lovely DIY shop, and newsagents and the very old bakers.
David: You need stuff like that to make an area.
Ronnie: Absolutely. This Indian restaurant (www.zaffrani-islington.co.uk) is lovely, but it used to be a wonderful fish and chip shop called Fishers and then they sold it to an Italian family. The music shop has been there for a long time, but not as long as us.
David: Here’s three shops all in a row, which are suddenly quite practical. Farrow and Ball (website here)doing wallpaper and paint, Living Space (website here) do kitchens, and Fired Earth (website here) do tiles.
Ronnie: Very upmarket though!
David: I never even look in, because I think it’s not for the likes of me.
Ronnie: No, I don’t think it is! We are standing at the edge of what was the Crown and Anchor pub (info here), a lovely building. We had some good times and bad times there. It was said that some gang leaders used to turn up there occasionally, but I don’t know about that. John and Lyndie lived in the cottage down the passage, and they’d hear a lot of loud rock music coming down. In the end John put his microphone out of the window, and se
nt the recordings to the Noise Abatement Society! They did soundproof it, but you could always hear it. It’s happened at the Kings Head too, they have less music. It was always noisy, but such a wonderful atmosphere, especially with people just dancing in the street!
David: Now we walk down this very atmospheric passage, with little cottages.
Ronnie: Here we are on the square, but in my day this was old Victorian tenement block. It was supposed to be rat infested and it was very dark. Also, we didn’t have these old lights; they look traditional but they’re more recent. It was just a nasty sodium light, so it was very dark in the winter. Then the council said they’d knock it down and build houses there, and we all said ‘No, we want some open space’, and we got this lovely square in the 80s. It looks lovely doesn’t it? There’s a tree that is the first one to blossom every year, which is a memorial to a family that were killed. I love it because we knew them really well, they were such wonderful people. There’s also now these new bike racks which have plants in which is so much nicer than the black and yellow ones, and we’ve got all these lovely cobbles and York stone.
David: And we’re replacing this tarmac over the summer, with new cobbles. It’s called permeable paving so it stops over-flooding drains
Ronnie: How wonderful! So there’s lots of new things as well as the old!
David: It is interesting to think that it’s been transformed into this little hidden square. The workshop’s fascinating, isn’t it?
Ronnie: Yes, when John bought the hall he didn’t realise he’d bought the workshop. It belonged to Mr West who was an old joiner. He made chairs, commodes, all sorts of things. He built our new roof and the seating. When he retired John took over the workshop and we inherited all these lovely old tools. Originally the shed was were he kept his old cart and he’d push all his wares down to Tottenham Court Road to sell. There was a fire in the foyer with a big chimney which I had to light.
David: And you came from south of the river, so it was a big deal to come as a teenager and take lodgings.
Ronnie: It was a dream come true for me, arriving here and thinking, “This is theatre”. The real theatre I had in my head. All the gauzes and effects and magic. I’m so pleased to still be a part of it.
David: It’s been really interesting doing this walk Ronnie, I’ve been struck by how much has changed over time …
Ronnie: … and continues to, look at how many of these shops are closed at the moment …
David: … and the Little Angel has been one of the few constants. We’re back outside the theatre now, it’s got a bit chilly hasn’t it? Shall we go inside for a cup of tea?
Ronnie: Well, what a wonderful idea!
Inside, the tea flowed, and Ronnie’s stories continued. Fascinating, colourful and some of them quite possibly libelous. And Reader, I listened to him.